Super Local Bún chả

I’ve been trying to stay away from actually eating on the street or in alleys. I’ve lucked out by finding really local food in traditional shops, but I know that there is food out there that I’m missing out on because I’m playing it safe. Through some research I found this hidden gem that serves bún chả and nem cua bể. I wish I could tell you the name of the place and the address, but I don’t have that info. It’s a no-name place in an alley with low plastic tables and very low plastic chairs. I’ll give you a location at the bottom of the post.

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Bún chả is grilled pork belly and meatballs in a sweetish broth served with rice noodles. The thing about this place is that they use wooden sticks to grill their meat instead of screens or metal skewers. This may not sound like a big deal, but it is. The sticks are well burnt and well seasoned. The sticks full of meat are right on top of the charcoal and the flames flare with every drip of fat. The wonderful char comes through with every bite. I’ve had some good bún chả, but this is, by far, the best.

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The only other thing this place has on the menu is nem cua bể (pork, crab spring roll). This particular nem was also the best I’ve had so far. It came out steaming hot with a crispy skin and a good amount of crab meat. I dipped the nem in the bún chả broth and….wow! I guess when you only do two things, there’s a good chance you’ll do it right.

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If you’re in Hanoi and you want to have the best bún chả and nem cua bể in the city, find this place. It’s very local. Everyone but us were locals, so I had to use my very limited Vietnamese and pointing skills to order. Two orders of bún chả, nem cua bể, and botlled water set us back 70,000 VND ($3.08 USD) total. You can’t beat that.

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Bún Chả and Nem Cua Bể Alley
Look for The Wolfhound Irish Bar
4 Lương Ngọc Quyến
Hàng Buồm, Hoàn Kiếm
Hà Nội
The restaurant is in the alley to the right of The Wolfhound Irish Bar.

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Phở Cuốn Hương Mai

There so much good food in Hanoi that I didn’t know where to start. Luckily, there are tons of places around where I’m staying. I did research on so many places, created my own food map, and have so much info on all things Vietnamese food. That being said, because of shoddy mobile data, I ended up in a place I didn’t have any idea about that was near a place I actually had on my map. Fortunately, it all worked out for the best.

Phở Cuốn Hương Mai was a great introduction to Vietnamese food that I had never tried before. Most Vietnamese places I’ve been to in America have your normal pho and banh mi with some dishes that may or may not be Vietnamese. We ended up ordering phở cuốn which are rice rolls filled with fresh cilantro, mint, cucumber, and thin, seared beef. So good, so light, and so fresh. One order consisted of nine rolls. Three of us shared, but I could have eaten all of them myself. They give you a bowl of fish sauce with vinegar to dip that is a tad sweet, and it just makes the whole thing perfect.

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Since we had to share the phở cuốn, we had to order more food because we were starving. We also got beef noodles, Phở chiên trứng. Again, so good! Wok-fried beef combined with a leafy, green vegetable I don’t know the name of, tomato and onion on top of fried noodles (think the noodles that come in the pack of ramen you buy at the grocery store). The noodles came out steaming hot, but that didn’t keep us from going right at it and burning our mouths a little. Did I mention we were starving? The beef was slightly thicker than in the phở cuốn, but it had a similar flavor. The green veggie wasn’t too soft. It still had a bit of a bite to it. Another great dish.

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Even though I didn’t know much about this place, my research of the other phở cuốn restaurants in the area said that they all have fried corn. It’s kind of a thing in the places in this particular area. So, of course, we had to try it. Ngô chiên is corn dusted with something and fried. It’s quite simple, but addicting. It’s hard to stop eating. It wasn’t mushy at all. Each kernel was crispy. It would be nice in place of popcorn while you’re watching a movie.

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Phở Cuốn Hương Mai is really close to our apartment, so we will be going back for sure. It’s spacious, clean, and bright with fantastic food.

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Phở Cuốn Hương Mai
25 Ngũ Xã, Trúc Bạch,
Ba Đình, Hà Nội

Berni VIetnamese Restaurant

San Antonio is teeming with some fantastic Vietnamese food. Lucky for us! I’ve tried quite a few, but one does everything right. Berni Vietnamese Restaurant in the Medical Center area is hands down, the best. Come and fight me if you think otherwise.

Berni takes care of you from the moment you sit down. While you’re looking at the menu, they bring you a small bowl of clear broth with ground beef and carrots in it. It doesn’t seem remotely Vietnamese, but I enjoy the hell out of it every time. I always end up spending too much time looking at the menu when, in reality, I invariably end up ordering one of two things; a banh mi or a combination pho.

Yes, I went with a grilled pork banh mi. I briefly flirted with the idea of getting a vermicelli bowl, but the words wouldn’t come out when it was finally time to order. The grilled pork banh mi is not only one of the best Vietnamese sandwiches in the city, but it’s one of the best sandwiches in the city, period. The pork is so tender, the carrots and cucumber along with the peanuts add a nice crunch, and the bun is crusty and holds up when you add the delicious sweet sauce. Even though I pour some sauce into the sandwich, I still end up dipping it because that sauce is amazing. I could seriously eat one of these every day.

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The wife went with a combination tripe and meatball pho. Great choice. These meatballs aren’t what you’re thinking. You couldn’t float them in a nice Sunday sauce. These meatballs have a slight hint of cinnamon or nutmeg, I can’t tell which. Doesn’t matter. All that matters is that these particular meatballs are wonderful in the pho. The thing I enjoy about the pho at Berni is that the broth is not always the same. It’s basically the same, but there are always slight differences. I like this because it makes me think that someone is actually making the broth and it’s not a powder or from a can.

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Another nice touch from Berni is the purple tapioca pearl dessert you get at the end of your meal. They actually bring it out while you’re eating, but it’s right there when you finish eating. It’s a nice, smooth transition. Another successful lunch at Berni. Of course I’ll be back. Maybe I’ll try something else off the menu. Nah! Who am I kidding?

Berni Vietnamese Restaurant
8742 Wurzbach Road
San Antonio, TX 78240

Cafe Don Juan

I don’t know why, but I’ve been on a beef enchilada kick lately. All I care about is finding new Mexican restaurants and trying their enchiladas. Pizza, no! Hamburger, no! Steak, no! You get the picture.

Cafe Don Juan is west of downtown and it looks like it’s been there a while. It’s not fancy and the menu is kind of small. I imagine this place has regulars who don’t even have to order; their usual just miraculously shows up in front of them minutes after sitting down. It’s one of these places that closes after lunch. Luckily for me, I had a rare afternoon off.

The beef enchiladas were as good as I’ve had anywhere; dare I say the best. The beef was well seasoned and the enchiladas were topped with gooey cheese and a thicker than usual (not complaining) enchilada sauce. What a wonderful combination. I probably don’t need to go anywhere else for enchiladas, but what fun would that be? I mixed the beans with a combination of the chip salsa, green salsa and spicy salsa. So good! The spicy salsa is kept in a metal container on the table. Kind of like you would see in a Chinese restaurant with chili oil. First time seeing that.

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The wife wasn’t hungry so she had two tacos which I tried. The carne guisada taco was full of beef stew in a thick sauce. No condiments needed, it was good on it’s own. In the future I would like to just order the carne guisada, take it home, and eat it on top of some hot, steaming white rice. Just a thought. The other taco was chicharrones and eggs. This went well with the green salsa. I kind of wish it was without the eggs. We should have ordered the chicharrones as a stew. Next time.

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I look forward to going back to Cafe Don Juan in the future. There were other interesting things on the menu. I think breakfast will be our next meal there. Maybe I too can become a regular. We all have our own goals.

Cafe Don Juan
1422 W. Commerce Street
San Antonio, TX 78207